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Tiger Leaping Gorge

Published March 6th, 2012

We’ve embarked on a two-day hike along the Tiger Leaping Gorge from a small village called Qiaotou. It is an entirely unremarkable place serving as a transfer stop for buses running between Lijiang and Zhongdian (Shangrila). Most importantly for us, however, Qiaotou is a starting point for the roughly sixteen-kilometer-long high trail along the rapids of Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek

After passing the local school, we climbed past a paved road for about twenty minutes until reaching the actual trail. For the first time since arriving in Qiaotou, we were able to see an unobstructed vista of the gorge. The mass of seemingly peaceful water flowed towards the rapids located somewhere within the towering mountains ahead. The faintly outlined trail winded its way on the left bank and promised adventure.
Only about half an hour into the hike, the feeling of solitude was almost complete, with the signs of civilization barely visible among the landscape behind. The trail led us through green hills, revealing yet another beautiful landscape with each bend.

The Road

Traveling to a tropical province during a monsoon season means extremely unpredictable weather conditions: Barely a few bends away from the start, we had to take our raincoats out and face the contrasting sensations coming from the cold rainwater outside and the warm dampness of our clothes. Rather than lower our spirits, the sudden rainfall only served to make the trek all the more special and adventure-like. As the weather gradually became even less clear, the more distant views were completely veiled by the rainclouds. Soon enough, the fog covered everything in any direction, including the rapids below us. All that was left to do was to trudge along the trail in hope of reaching a guesthouse before the nightfall would be upon us.

  • July 18th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/8 / 1/100 sec

Adventure

After the most exhausting part of the entire trek – the infamous twenty-eight bends, the road descended through the serenely quiet Yacha village, while the rain seemed to only intensify, reaching monsoon-like quality. Occasionally, we heard goats calling out through the rain, and sometimes we would see some taking cover under the rocks along the trail. Mostly though, we had to concentrate hard on examining the slippery mud under our feet, as a single mistake would lead to a very long fall down.
When it finally appeared to us in the late afternoon, the Half Way Guesthouse was a welcome sight for weary eyes. As all of our clothes, including the ones supposedly covered by raincoats, were soaked, we quickly changed into dry attire and spread the damp items on the windowsill. The late-evening air filled the room with refreshing chilliness that made sitting under the warm blankets and gazing out of the window that much more rewarding. We were tired enough to fall asleep instantaneously.

  • July 18th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/4 / 1/160 sec

Flight

With the morning came the greatest gift we could have wished for: The weather cleared up perfectly with rain and wind giving way to sun and blue skies. For the first time since morning the day before we were able to look at the mountains surrounding the trail. Waking up at six in the morning to witness such an absolute clarity of surroundings was a great experience wiping all the tiredness of the day before completely. After a refreshing open-air shower, we left the friendly walls and embarked on a second day of adventure.
The trail was embossed with colourfull markers pointing to the guesthouses on the way as well as towards the end – the middle rapids of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The joy of the clear weather was evident all around; the brightly shining sun, lazily flowing clouds, and even flying birds all seemed to express their happiness on that particular morning. Looking back at the canyon we just walked through, it was almost unbelievable how different it looked. Without the overcast and the mist, it has transformed into a fairytale scene straight from the pages of a book.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 40mm / f/8 / 1/60 sec

Goats

An hour into the second day’s hike, we got a glimpse of the trail’s ending. Far below us, we could see wide roads winded down towards the water as well as some buildings standing right above the middle rapids. The very same mass of water that seemed so peaceful at the beginning of the trail changed into thundering angry rapids that formed the canyon thousands of years ago. Looking down the high trail, we could see the gentle slopes suddenly ending and dropping towards the rapids below. On the far side, the tall vertical walls of the mountains towered the entire landscape. Surprisingly enough, we saw a familiar sight from the other day: Yesterday’s goats, this time proudly standing atop a rock, steadily watched us tread the last few kilometers of the trek.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 40mm / f/8 / 1/250 sec

The Waterfall

After another bend in the trail, we were faced with a truly impressive sight: A huge waterfall cascading down the slope, the trail itself, and then towards the gorge far below. With the mist seemingly forming a curtain and the wet rocks reflecting the sunlight, the place had a fantastic quality to it. Standing there, beside the waterfall, we caught our last glimpse of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain before it got enveloped in the clouds yet again. We were extremely grateful for a clear morning and the sights we were allowed to set our eyes upon earlier today. The day continued in a splendid weather, allowing us to fully experience all the beauty around us. After passing the large waterfall, the road started to show more signs of civilization.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/8 / 1/160 sec

Temple of the Silent Whispers

When we crossed an especially treacherous stream and treaded through a small landslide, we have arrived at a simple temple build around a cave altar. The incense and paper prayers burned inside the courtyard escaped the building through the open door, creating fantastic smoke shapes on their way to the sky. The inside of the temple was full of devotional items such as colourfull wind prayers hanging above the walls. Their sun-bleached colours contrasted with the relatively cool shades of the mountains directly behind. Upon leaving the temple, a small piece of incense stuck in between the main gate’s masonry, doubtlessly placed there by one of many kids playing around the temple. The incense burned slowly, permeating the air around with a calming fragrance.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/8 / 1/60 sec

God Rays

As if to underline the spiritual nature of the place we just left, the canyon ahead of us was suddenly basked in beautiful, heavenly-like sunlight. The change of light transformed the last steps of our two-day-long trek into an amazing visual experience. As we looked around, we saw the peaks opposite shift their appearance yet again. Seeing their mysterious nature in the mist the day before, and their clear detail in the morning, this heavenly afternoon sight only emphasized the magical nature of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. This beautiful vista seemed to bid us farewell through revealing itself in such a spectacle of nature. We simply could not take our eyes off the green slopes, the blue skies, and the sunlight illuminating it all.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/8 / 1/200 sec

The Traveller

Finally, the end of the trek was upon us. We gazed below and saw the middle rapids. A massive turmoil of water was causing a quantity of vapor to form directly above it, creating a loud roar in the process. Standing on the very last slope, we gazed back towards the mountains and though about all the great experiences of the past two days. It was due to pure chance that we were able to see the beauty of Tiger Leaping Gorge in so many different conditions during one trek.
As we had a few hours before the bus back to Lijiang would arrive, we left our big backpacks at the hostel, changed into shorts, and went down the easy road to see the middle rapids up close. Now clad in shorts and sleeveless shirts, we walked down the freshly paved and very wide road that luckily still has not seen much use. There were no cars and we had the entirety of steaming hot asphalt to ourselves. After a few minutes of easy going, we reached the rather make-shift sign and followed a steep, nondescript, dirt road down to the water.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/8 / 1/160 sec

The Pillars

The descent was relatively easy, if very steep, and took us about an hour. On the way, we would get a glimpse of the famous rock and then re-enter the thick woods. The middle rapids had almost a Lord of the Rings quality to it, with two large mountains standing sentinel on either side of the water. Combined with the loud sound, the place had an impressive atmosphere. At the bottom of the canyon, there was a wooden bridge leading up to a sightseeing spot, from which one could see the rock. According to the legend, it was one of the three spots where the blessed tiger jumped over the rapids to escape a hunter. Looking up, we could see the bridge connecting one side of the canyon with another. It was by that bridge that we would eventually take our bus back to Lijiang and sheer height made us contemplate the ascent we were about to make. While climbing up, we often looked back at the views for a second time, simply because the Tiger Leaping Gorge was far too impressive to ignore. Far below, we could make out the sightseeing spot, and the middle rapids rock engulfed in the thundering water. Once at the road level, we decided to sit on the terrace of Tina’s Guesthouse to eat, rest, and marvel at the views high above. Hiding in the shade of a roof, we stretched ourselves on the long wooden benches and napped for a while to idle away the time left until the bus back to Lijiang came. Cicadas chirped in bamboo groves around the guesthouse and warm air created a perfect atmosphere for a quick nap. Right there and then, waiting for a bus, I knew that this was not my last visit to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. I will come back again.

  • July 19th, 2011
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • 17mm / f/8 / 1/250 sec

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SheriHill
Sheri Hill  over 2 years ago
0
Felt like I was there also. Great job at capturing and telling the story.
AmrTahtawi
Awesome Account
Amr Tahtawi  over 2 years ago
0
magnificent story my friend, well captured.
wsmieszek
Witold Śmieszek  over 2 years ago
0
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.